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A Second Chance at Making a Stand Against Racism

My grandparents lived in Salem, Arkansas, which was an all-white community in the Ozark foothills. One day in the early 1960s, Grandpa was strolling across the town square on his lunch break from his job at the post office. As he walked by the bus depot, a friendly voice called out to him. …

Glancing to his left, Grandpa found himself looking into the face of a man he hadn't seen for almost fifty years. He and Ben had lived down the road from each other as children. They often played together as their parents worked the neighboring family farms. Grandpa had even occasionally gone to church with Ben and his family. Yet when it came time to attend school, the boys' days together ended. Grandpa enrolled at the white school and Ben at the one for African-Americans. At that moment the racial divide that had not been important during the first six years of their lives was suddenly and silently accepted by both as law.

Over time, both of the families moved from their Izard County farms. Grandpa and Ben grew up and lost track of each other. Their lives remained as separate as the signs marked "white" and "colored." Because they were prevented from bumping into each other in spots like theaters or restaurants, the two might never have seen each other again if Ben had not had to make a bus connection in Salem that day.

Grandpa was overjoyed to see this smiling face from his past. The two sat down on the square and filled each other in on all the details of their lives. Noting the time, Grandpa asked Ben if he would join him for lunch. It was then the racial divide again reared its ugly head. Ben explained to Grandpa that a black man could not eat at the local café.

Up until that moment, my grandfather had essentially been a closet racist. He had gone along with the status quo never considering the pain it had created. Now, when forced to face that image, he did not like what he saw. Suddenly he realized it was time for a "makeover." Rather than accept the great divide, he decided to do something about it. He took Ben to the café, where they sat at a table, and together the two of them broke the color line.

My grandfather would continue to visit Ben for many years. They even went to some family reunions together. The color of the skin no longer mattered; instead, there was only the bond of a friendship forged in childhood play and then reborn with a smile and a friendly greeting.

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